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At the Point of the Bayonet

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He had with him his wife and infant child. The child was some three months old, and was looked after by an ayah, who had been in Major Lindsay’s service ten years; for three elder children had been born to him–all, however, dying from the effects of the climate before reaching the age of five. The ayah had nursed each, in succession, and had become greatly attached to the family, especially to her youngest charge. She had come to speak English well; but with the child she always talked in her native tongue, as the major saw the advantage it would prove to the boy, when he grew up, to be able to speak fluently one, at least, of the native languages.

The nurse was a Mahratta. She had been in the service of the British Resident at Poona and, when he was recalled, had entered that of Major Lindsay, at that time a captain who acted as secretary to the Resident.

A young officer from Bombay had just ridden out, to spend a day or two with the major, and was sitting with him at the entrance to the tent.

“The news from the army,” he said, “is most unsatisfactory. As you know, to the astonishment of everyone Colonel Egerton was appointed to the command, in spite of the fact that he was so infirm as to be altogether unfit for active service; and Mostyn, our late Resident at Poona, and Carnac accompanied him as deputies of the Council.”

“That is altogether a bad arrangement,” the major said. “It has always been a great disadvantage for a general to be accompanied by civilians, with power to thwart his combinations. Against Mostyn’s appointment no one could raise any objection as, having been for some years at Poona, he understands the Mahrattas, and indeed is much liked by them, so that in any negotiations he would have far more chance of success than a stranger; but Carnac is hot headed and obstinate, with a very high idea of his own importance, and it is certain that there will be difficulties between him and Egerton.”

“I am sorry to say, Major, that these anticipations were very speedily verified. As you know, the advance party landed at Aptee, on November 23rd, and seized the roads over the gorge; and on the 25th the main body disembarked at Panwell. No sooner had they got there than there was a quarrel between Egerton and Carnac. Most unfortunately Mostyn, who would have acted as mediator, was taken ill on the very day after landing, and was obliged to return to Bombay; and I hear there is hardly any chance of his recovery. The army did not reach the top of the Ghauts till the 23rd of December–instead of, at the latest, three days after landing–and actually spent eleven days before it arrived at Karlee, only eight miles in advance of the Bhore Ghauts. Of course this encouraged the enemy, and gave plenty of time for them to assemble and make all their arrangements and, when we last heard, they were harassing our march. For the past two days no news has arrived, and there seems to be little doubt that the Mahrattas have closed in round their rear, and cut off all communications.”

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